Ed Driscoll

Establishment Blues

I’ve been fond of quoting former Saturday Night Live writer Anne Beatts‘ phrase that “You can only be avant-garde for so long before you become garde.” If there’s any surer sign that the sixties generation has become garde, it’s this:

ALEX LONG: The Freewheelin’ Judiciary: A Bob Dylan Anthology. “This paper, presented as part of a symposium on Bob Dylan and the Law at the Fordham University School of Law, explores the ways in which judges have used the lyrics of Bob Dylan in their opinions.”

Plus, in the L.A. Times: In some courts, Dylan rules.

Or that Rolling Stone magazine and AARP’s magazine seem increasingly like identical products.

In his must-read essay “Establishment Blues,” Walter Russell Mead lays out some of the causes as to the impact of the Boomers running the asylum, and concludes:

The French aristocrats laughed at the manners and the morals of the common people and ridiculed the faith that lit the darkness and softened the harsh conditions of ordinary lives.  Enlightened and cosmopolitan, the establishment mocked the attachment of the ignorant peasants to the king.  The well educated, well connected elites accepted no limits on their ability to convert their social privilege into personal wealth; they accepted no limits on the gratification of their physical desires — flaunting their romantic affairs in the same spirit in which they feasted at Versailles while the gaunt peasants starved.  They used and abused to the fullest all the privileges that came with their status while mocking and rejecting any sense of duty and obligation.

It was fun while it lasted.

Of course, that analogy is a reminder that things might not automatically get better when the current aristocracy surrenders their power, either through age or through the ballot box. It’s not a coincidence that Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism effectively begins with the French Revolution, which he dubbed “the first totalitarian revolution:”

Whatever else it may have been, however, one thing is clear: the French Revolution was the first totalitarian revolution, the mother of modern totalitarianism, and the spiritual model for the Italian Fascist, German Nazi, and Russian Communist revolutions. A nationalist-populist uprising, it was led and manipulated by an intellectual vanguard determined to replace Christianity with a political religion that glorified “the people,” anointed the revolutionary vanguard as their priests, and abridged the rights of individuals. As Robespierre put it, “The people is always worth more than individuals…The people is sublime, but individuals are weak”—or, at any rate, expendable.

But then, that sounds very much like today’s current Ruling Class Left, and it’s a reminder that our culture wars are as much about class as they are about the historic divide between Democrats and Republicans. Check out this quote from CNBC’s mad money man, Jim Cramer, as highlighted earlier today by Glenn Reynolds:  “I was very anti-Bush. I’m a Democrat, I’ve got the canceled checks to prove it, and suddenly I’m the enemy? Me? Me?”

But of course you are. Recall that when Obama gave his infamous Bitter Clingers tirade in 2008, he was referring to the Democrats who supported Hillary — who presumably were just as anti-Bush as Cramer. And concurrently, as the Pennsylvania Democratic primary was going on, this infamous quote from veteran author turned film director Nora Ephron at the Huffington Post, who didn’t seem to mind that she was attacking half her potential audience:

This is an election about whether the people of Pennsylvania hate blacks more than they hate women. And when I say people, I don’t mean people, I mean white men. How ironic is this? After all this time, after all these stupid articles about how powerless white men are and how they can’t even get into college because of overachieving women and affirmative action and mean lady teachers who expected them to sit still in the third grade even though they were all suffering from terminal attention deficit disorder — after all this, they turn out (surprise!) to have all the power. (As they always did, by the way; I hope you didn’t believe any of those articles.)

To put it bluntly, the next president will be elected by them: the outcome of Tuesday’s primary will depend on whether they go for Hillary or Obama, and the outcome of the general election will depend on whether enough of them vote for McCain. A lot of them will: white men cannot be relied on, as all of us know who have spent a lifetime dating them. And McCain is a compelling candidate, particularly because of the Torture Thing. As for the Democratic hope that McCain’s temper will be a problem, don’t bet on it. A lot of white men have terrible tempers, and what’s more, they think it’s normal.

As Jennifer Rubin noted at the time at Commentary:

The Left is losing it. Not the election. Just any semblance of sanity. From one Barack Obama fan we learn, “This is an election about whether the people of Pennsylvania hate blacks more than they hate women.” And these are Democrats, mind you.

Also around that time, Jim Geraghty spotted another left-on-left freakout, when the pro-Obama left Alinskized Hillary Clinton and her supporters (only to welcome Hillary back into the family as Secretary of State a few months later):

In and of itself, it’s shocking, but it’s otherworldly when we think about what Hillary Clinton has meant to liberals for most of the past sixteen years.Maybe Bill Richardson owes James Carville money, because that would help explain the bitter jihad the former Clinton strategist seems to be on, so relentlessly decrying the New Mexico Governor as “Judas” that Richardson stopped doing media appearances. It didn’t take much for Obama-backing General McPeak to declare Bill Clinton the equivalent of Joe McCarthy. And if you’ve read any Hillary vs. Obama thread on a liberal blog lately, you know that there have been friendlier back-and-forth exchanges in snakepits.

There’s something vaguely reassuring about all this, from the view of sitting on the right. It reveals to conservatives that the nastiness exhibited in our earlier disagreements with these folks was never personal; these people are clearly nasty to anyone who disagrees with them. Geraldine Ferraro’s long service to the Democratic party means nothing to many Obama backers; she’s a racist, “David Duke in drag,” as Rhodes put it. I’m sure Senator Patrick Leahy thought his decades of work on the left side of the aisle had bought him some street cred from feminists, but no, he was called sexist when he called on Hillary to leave the race.

Hillary gets called a “monster” by Obama’s surrogates; Hillary’s surrogates wonder out loud if Obama ever sold drugs. Today Clinton surrogate Ed Rendell speculates that Americans know only half the story of Barack Obama. Day in, day out, in this race it continues.

Is there nastiness on the right? Sure. But it’s hard to imagine somebody being the equivalent hero to the right the way Hillary was a hero to the left, so suddenly and severely pitched overboard – no, that’s not it, denounced and demonized — when somebody else came along.

See also: career arc of Joe Lieberman, from Al Gore’s vice presidential nominee to pariah in six years.

Responding to Meade, Ace writes:

The “elite” is so scornful of the public they’ve decided they will not even lower themselves to learning our vernacular and by speaking our language, to trick us; instead, they will just ignore us completely, at least until such time as we raise ourselves up to their level (and at that point, of course, they will not have to persuade us even then, for we will have learned enough to see their wisdom and call it our own).

You can see this demonstrated in just a short eight years, comparing the manners of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Bill Clinton surely counted himself among “the elite,” but he was willing to speak in the vernacular of the ordinary American in order to move them in his direction.

Compare that to Barack Obama, who visibly bristles at lowering himself to such a vulgar level. We shall either appreciate his (and his class’) erudition and genius, or we will suffer in the darkness without it; but either way, he will not diminish himself to pay lip-service to the values of the commoners.

An Easter proclamation from the White House? How obscene. We shan’t be debasing ourself so.

As Mead says about the elites’ open contempt of patriotism in a country known for its patriotism: “This will not end well.”

There are a few cracks starting to form, though it’s far too soon to tell how they’ll play out. But to paraphrase the title of a 2009 book by Harry Stein into vernacular of one man who had second thoughts, a lot of people on the left will soon be saying to themselves, “I can’t believe I’m watching a f***ing play by an F*** Republican:”

Mamet had been brought to campus by Hillel, and the subject of his talk was “Art, Politics, Judaism, and the Mind of David Mamet.” There wasn’t much talk of Judaism, however, at least not explicitly. He arrived late and took the stage looking vaguely lost. He withdrew from his jacket a sheaf of papers that quickly became disarranged. He lost his place often. He stumbled over his sentences. But the unease that began to ripple through the audience had less to do with the speaker’s delivery than with his speech’s content. Mamet was delivering a frontal assault on American higher education, the provider of the livelihood of nearly everyone in his audience.

Higher ed, he said, was an elaborate scheme to deprive young people of their freedom of thought. He compared four years of college to a lab experiment in which a rat is trained to pull a lever for a pellet of food. A student recites some bit of received and unexamined wisdom—“Thomas Jefferson: slave owner, adulterer, pull the lever”—and is rewarded with his pellet: a grade, a degree, and ultimately a lifelong membership in a tribe of people educated to see the world in the same way.

“If we identify every interaction as having a victim and an oppressor, and we get a pellet when we find the victims, we’re training ourselves not to see cause and effect,” he said. Wasn’t there, he went on, a “much more interesting .  .  . view of the world in which not everything can be reduced to victim and oppressor?”

This led to a full-throated defense of capitalism, a blast at high taxes and the redistribution of wealth, a denunciation of affirmative action, prolonged hymns to the greatness and wonder of the United States, and accusations of hypocrisy toward students and faculty who reviled business and capital even as they fed off the capital that the hard work and ingenuity of businessmen had made possible. The implicit conclusion was that the students in the audience should stop being lab rats and drop out at once, and the faculty should be ashamed of themselves for participating in a swindle—a “shuck,” as Mamet called it.

It was as nervy a speech as I’ve ever seen, and not quite rude—Mamet was too genial to be rude—but almost. The students in Memorial Hall seemed mostly unperturbed. The ripples of dissatisfaction issued from the older members of the crowd. Two couples in front of me shot looks to one another as Mamet went on—first the tight little smiles, then quick shakes of the head, after a few more minutes the eye-rolls, and finally a hitchhiking gesture that was the signal to walk out. Several others followed, with grim faces.

It was too much, really. It’s one thing to titillate progressive theatergoers with scenes of physical abuse and psychological torture and lines like “You’re f—ing f—ed.” But David Mamet had at last gone too far. He’d turned into a f—ing Republican.

* * *

Mamet mentioned a screenplay that he hopes will soon be produced involving a young rich girl who applies to Harvard. When she’s rejected she suddenly declares herself an Aztec to qualify for affirmative action. Presumably high jinks ensue. A new two-character play opening in London this fall, The Anarchist, is a “verbal sword-fight” between two women of a certain age, one a veteran of 1960s radicalism, jailed for life on a bombing charge, and the other a reactionary prison governor from whom the aging radical hopes to receive parole. Regardless of the play’s true merits, we can expect the word didactic to get a workout from critics.

After reading The Secret Knowledge in galleys, the Fox News host and writer Greg Gutfeld invented the David Mamet Attack Countdown Clock, which “monitors the days until a once-glorified liberal artist is dismissed as an untalented buffoon.” Tick tock.

Which should be a fascinating demonstration of the much-vaunted leftwing tolerance in action. Everyone who is a conservative, libertarian, and/or Republican who has any sort of collection of movies knows that the 7/8ths of the directors and writers of the titles he owns are somewhere on the left. But so what? Give up the pleasures of Star Wars, Dr. Strangelove, Annie Hall, Apocalypse Now, and, prior to Mamet’s conversion, The Untouchables and Wag The Dog?

But suddenly, ideology’s about to matter a lot more to leftwing movie and theater goers. Or as happens to some artists, they’ll only remember the pre-conversion films and plays, conspiring Mamet’s future product to the dustbin.

But at some point, Hollywood might just have to come to grips that it’s no longer a closed shop, as it has been for forty years.

Let’s hope they do a better job of it than the world of journalism, and especially, academia, has.